Forest Lake house fire caused by child with lighter

'I kind of just freaked out'

LIBBY WILSON
Last updated 05:00 13/12/2013
Shyloh Tahere
MARK TAYLOR/Fairfax NZ
BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY: Shyloh Tahere at home with mum, Te Amohia McQueen, in the fire-ravaged sleepout.

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Early Tuesday afternoon, Te Amohia McQueen looked out the window to see flames coming from the sleepout at her Forest Lake property.

Little did she know her three-year-old son, Shyloh, who had started the fire with brother Miah's cigarette lighter, was still inside.

"It happened so fast," she said.

"I kind of just freaked out.

"I just thought ‘oh my gosh, the fire's pretty big, the flames are pretty high.' I didn't know if we could get it under control."

Shyloh was rescued by an older brother while an uncle doused the fire, but the family knows things could have ended very differently.

Close calls like this are why the Fire Service wants to remind the public to keep matches and lighters well out of reach of children, and teach them fire isn't a toy.

"The outcome of this fire could have been tragically very different.

"One minute could have been the difference between the children involved . . . living or dying," said Waikato Fire Risk Management Officer Peter Hallett.

He said Tuesday's fire was concentrated in curtains, bedding, and a mattress.

"There's a significant fuel load in some of these mattresses . . .

"They can generate a lot of heat and generate it quickly, and spread a fire quite quickly."

Young Shyloh had been outside with his five-year-old brother, but went into the sleepout where he managed to find a lighter left there by an older relative.

From playtime to fire and subsequent rescue took just a few minutes, but the room was already damaged with scorched and peeling walls and ceiling.

It was a "big lesson" and a "costly little fire", said Ms McQueen.

"We're just thankful that everyone's okay and the kids are safe."

Shyloh knew he shouldn't play with fire, but was fascinated by cigarette lighters, Ms McQueen said.

He's been told what he did was "very naughty", and the Fire Service is lined up for a chat with him next week.,

However, Ms McQueen said the adults in the house had to take responsibility too.

Lighters are likely to go on a lanyard carried around the neck of those who use them if non-smoker Ms McQueen has her way.

And the sleepout will be getting its own smoke alarm.

Since July 1 this year, there have been six avoidable fire deaths in New Zealand.

The most recent was a six-year-old girl in Auckland, who was the first child to die in a fire since May 2010.

However, in that same period, there have been 199 fires started by under five-year-olds. 

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KEEP KIDS FIREWISE

Keep matches and lighters – even ‘child-proof' ones – out of reach of children, and make sure you know where they are.

Teach children to give adults any matches and lighters they find. Explain that fire isn't magic or a toy.

It's for cooking food and heating the home. Curiosity about fire is common, but playing with it is not normal and can be deadly. 

- Waikato Times

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